UPDATE: Cocktail quarts join gallons as The Mai-Kai expands takeout menu

Updated June 26

The Mai-Kai continues to adapt and adjust to meet guest demand after the historic Polynesian restaurant reopened less than a month ago amid Florida’s struggles with the coronavirus pandemic. Following the popularity of the cocktail “Gallons to Go,” locals can now pick up quarts of five different popular topical drinks.

The Hukilau, Mai Tai and three other classic Mai-Kai cocktails are now available for curbside pickup in 32-ounce jars in addition to gallon jugs. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Hukilau, Mai Tai and three other classic Mai-Kai cocktails are now available for curbside pickup in 32-ounce jars in addition to gallon jugs. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The 32-ounce glass mason jars were introduced during the special virtual event in honor of The Hukilau on the weekend of June 5-6. Online videos hosted at The Mai-Kai by Jupiter Jones and Retro Rekindled were streamed worldwide, but local guests had the added treat of picking up a special Beachbum Berry mug from sponsor Real Cocktail Ingredients, plus quarts and gallons of The Hukilau cocktail featuring Don Q Rum.

Since that event, the curbside pickup cocktail menu has been updated to include 32-ounce jars of the four favorites that had been available only in 128-ounce jugs, plus several variations of the classic Rum Barrel. The Hukilau has also remained on the expanded menu. The quarts are a great option, allowing smaller groups to partake, or larger groups to sample multiple cocktails. Planning a backyard Fourth of July bash? Look no further.

Here’s the takeout cocktail menu and pre-tax prices as of June 26:
* Barrel O’ Rum – $74.77 gallon, $23.37 quart
* Black Magic – $74.77 gallon, $23.37 quart
* The Hukilau – $74.77 gallon, $23.37 quart
* Jet Pilot – $122.90 gallon, $32.71 quart
* Mai Tai – $112.15 gallon, $32.71 quart
By request, if available:
* Coconut Barrel (rum) – $74.77 galllon, $23.37 quart
* Vodka Barrel – $74.77 gallon, $23.37 quart

Select Mai-Kai tropical drinks are available by the gallon
Select Mai-Kai tropical drinks are available by the gallon. (Mai-Kai photo)

Each quart contains at least four servings of the robust Barrel, Black Magic and The Hukilau, but even more of the Jet Pilot and Mai Tai, which are usually served in smaller glasses. The gallons include 15 servings at 8 1/2 ounces each, but you’ll get many more servings of the smaller drinks. All are great deals compared to the prices for single servings in the restaurant.

Of course, since May 29, guests have been able to enjoy happy hour in The Molokai Bar from opening until 7 p.m., featuing half-priced cocktails and appetizers. In addition, The Mai-Kai recently announced the return of the Wednesday night free sushi buffet. A minimum $10 bar tab comes with a complimentary buffet featuring sushi and other finger foods from 5 to 9 p.m.

As they have since the reopening, The Mai-Kai management and staff are taking extra precautions to keep guests safe. “Masks are required when approaching the buffet, there are clear lines on the floor keeping everyone 6 feet apart and guests do not serve themselves,” according to a June 24 announcement on Facebook.

The restaurant and attached bar have been operating in accordance with all state and local guidelines, going above and beyond with additional measures in sanitization, distancing, team wellness, and training. Face coverings are required for all guests when entering, according to the latest Facebook post (see below). “We appreciate everyone’s cooperation in keeping each other safe. Mahalo!”

Hurricane Hayward is greeted by manager Kern Mattei while picking up quarts of cocktails to go. (Atomic Grog photo)
Hurricane Hayward is greeted by manager Kern Mattei while picking up quarts of cocktails to go. (Atomic Grog photo)

The Mai-Kai has also announced an expanded schedule of its legendary Polynesian Islander Revue for the July Fourth weekend. Check the official website for hours and showtimes or call (954) 563-3272. Reservations are required and can be made either online or by phone. The restaurant and gift shop remain open five days a week, Wednesday through Sunday.

However, if you’re not quite ready to venture out for a meal or just want to enjoy a taste of The Mai-Kai at home, there are penty of take-out options available every day. You can place an order online or by phone and schedule your pick-up time seven days a week:
Curbside pickup hours
Monday-Tuesday: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Wednesday-Saturday: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sunday: 3 to 9 p.m.

Note that if you prefer to stay in your car, the staff will bring your order to you. Also, if you live close to the restaurant, you may be able to get delivery of food and beverages on Wednesdays through Sundays.

The menu is expansive, perfect for upcoming Fourth of July family festivities. In addition to cocktails, the wine list features more than a dozen different bottles. But for a full Polynesian feast, you need to explore the distinctive food menu, which includes a delicious mix of classic Tiki bar staples and modern Pan Asian cuisine. As of late June, the menu included 23 appetizers, 36 entrees, six side dishes, and four desserts.
Official website: Check MaiKai.com for updates

The Hukilau 2020: A week of virtual events honor 19th annual Tiki weekender, help those in need
The Hukilau 2020: Virtual events honor 19th annual Tiki weekender, help those in need
Pay homage to the canceled Tiki weekender with educational symposiums, a special virtual event at The Mai-Kai, plus more.
* See video replays, all of the activities

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Expanded hot food menu joins cocktail ‘Gallons to Go’ as The Mai-Kai reopens to guests
Updated June 3

The Mai-Kai announced on May 21 that it will reopen for guests under the latest coronavirus rules for restaurants in Broward County and the state of Florida on Friday, May 29.

The Mai-Kai will reopen on May 29 after closing since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Sven Kirsten)
The Mai-Kai will reopen on May 29 after closing since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Sven Kirsten)

“Of course, our guests’ and employees’ health and safety are our first priority,” the email announcement said. “We have met and surpassed all CDC guidelines and mandatory government-issued operational requirements and we’ve taken additional measures in sanitization, distancing, team wellness, and training. Please note when entering the restaurant face coverings are required and temperatures will be taken. We appreciate everyone’s cooperation in keeping each other safe.”

Reservations for dinner only or dinner and the legendary Polynesian Islander Revue are required and can be made online at MaiKai.com or by phone at (954) 563-3272. Delivery options are also available.

The Mai-Kai's online ordering

The Molokai Bar will be open for happy hour prices on The Mai-Kai’s famous tropical drinks and appetizers from opening until 7 p.m. with socially-distanced table seating only but no reservations required. Check the website for the latest info on opening days, hours and showtimes. The Mai-Kai’s gift shop will also be reopening to guests.

The Mai-Kai also announced that the extensive menu of takeout food, wine and cocktails will still be available, even after the May 29 opening. Check out all the details below on the signature appetizers, entrees and “Gallons to Go” of tropical drinks you can order by phone for curbside pickup. To make the experience even easier, The Mai-Kai has just launched a new online ordering platform accessible directly from MaiKai.com.

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Original story:
Expanded hot food menu joins cocktail ‘Gallons to Go’ as The Mai-Kai plans reopening

Like many other bars and restaurants across Florida and the U.S., The Mai-Kai was forced to close its doors suddenly in March when the coronavirus pandemic caused a statewide shutdown. Sadly, the 63-year-old Polynesian palace had no more work for its extensive staff, from the cooks and bartenders to the sarong-clad Molokai Girls and performers in the Polynesian Islander Revue.

The Mai-Kai's Gallons to Go cocktail menu includes the Rum Barrel, Jet Pilot, Mai Tai and Black Magic
The Mai-Kai’s Gallons to Go cocktail menu includes the Rum Barrel, Jet Pilot, Mai Tai and Black Magic.

But the Fort Lauderdale landmark quickly found a unique way to give South Floridians a taste of its historic cocktails: Thirsty patrons hauled away hundreds of “Gallons to Go.” This curbside takeout program was a smash success, leading The Mai-Kai to release a limited edition rum, then later launch an ambitious menu of wines, meats and desserts for Mother’s Day.

Now, with the shutdown approaching eight weeks but with a reopening date on the horizon, The Mai-Kai has ramped up its takeout menu to include many favorites from its regular ala carte menu. You can pair your gallons of Rum Barrels and Mai Tais with hot appetizers, dinners and rice bowls.

Restaurants in Broward County will be allowed to reopen beginning Monday, May 18, but The Mai-Kai has not announced an opening date yet. “We are looking at the entire scenario and planning according to all rules for the safety of our guests and staff,” marketing director Pia Dahlquist said on Facebook. “Meanwhile, please enjoy our takeout food and favorite tropical Gallons to Go! And look for the announcement when we will re-open.”

The Mai-Kai’s takeout menu
Check the official website for the latest updates on pick-up hours plus new offerings.
Cocktails (Gallons to Go) | Food and desserts | Wines
On The Atomic Grog: The latest Mai-Kai news, plus our exclusive cocktail guide with 100+ recipes

With a 50 percent limit on capacity, among other restrictions, The Mai-Kai will certainly look to keep these curbside takeout offerings going even after the reopening. Judging by guest reaction, many hope they will remain permanently.

The Mai-Kai's new to-go menu

Said one comment in the Fans of The Mai-Kai Facebook group: “I am so impressed with what The Mai-Kai has come up with during these tough times. For a restaurant so steeped in tradition, they have surely thought outside the box to keep some revenue flowing. Their creative mindset is as stellar as ever! A lot of businesses could learn from them.”

Dahlquist said the success of the cocktails to go inspired management to increase the offerings. The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend, an exclusive new rum that was scheduled to launch at a special event in April, quickly sold out of its sneak preview allotment when it was added to the menu in April. [Check out our preview of the rum below] Then, on Mother’s Day weekend, bottles of wine (and signature glasses) joined the menu along with select meats and desserts to give Mom a proper holiday feast.

What’s even more impressive than the delicious selection of tropical fare is the fact that the entire operation has been run during the pandemic by a skeleton crew of mangers and owner Dave Levy. Like most others in the hospitality industry, The Mai-Kai faced the agonizing reality of having to let its entire staff of around 100 go. This was especially hard for the family-run establishment that prides itself on the loyalty of its employees, many of whom remain there for decades.

Now you can order Pupu Platters to pair with your Rum Barrels to go with The Mai-Kai's expanded take-out menu
Now you can order Pupu Platters to pair with your Rum Barrels to go with The Mai-Kai’s expanded take-out menu.

While we wait for news on the reopening, it’s a great time to take advantage of the extensive takeout menu and help support the owners and staff as they face another difficult task. We hope that the expanded food and cocktail offerings mean that some of the staff will be back in the kitchen and behind the bar and able to regain their salaries.

We look forward to a day in the not-too-distant future when we can once again enjoy a relaxing one-of-a-kind experience you can only get at The Mai-Kai, from the classic cocktails in The Molokai lounge to a quiet walk in the exotic Tiki garden, to dinner in one of the secluded and mysterious dining rooms, to a thrilling performance of the Polynesian Islander Revue. But in the meantime, we appreciate the ability to take a taste of The Mai-Kai home with us.

The menu of cocktails available for curbside pickup features the Barrel O’ Rum, Mai Tai, and Jet Pilot. Special requests can also be made for the Black Magic, plus the Coconut Barrel (a Barrel with coconut rum) and Vodka Barrel (with house or Absolut). The wine list features 25 different bottles (at 50 percent off regular prices).

And for the first time since closing in March, you can order appetizers and entrees direct from the kitchen. The menu features nine signature appetizers (pupu platter, crab rangoon, friend shrimp, etc.), 11 dinners (from Cantonese Shrimp to Ginger Garlic Lobster to USDA Prime Filet Mignon) and six rice bowls (with chicken, beef, shrimp and veggies). There are also four side dishes and four desserts.

The Mai-Kai's to-go menu includes 50 percent off bottles of wine, several pork tenderloin dishes, and a selection of desserts
The Mai-Kai’s to-go menu includes 50 percent off bottles of wine, several pork tenderloin dishes, and a selection of desserts.

You can also now order and pick up cocktails during an expanded window of office hours, seven days a week. Food is available for pick-up between 4 and 9 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Go to MaiKai.com for all the info.

Members of The Mai-Kai Club also get the benefit of a 25 percent discount on all take-out food orders. You can join the club now for just $20 and continue your savings (up to 50 percent off food, drinks and merchandise) when The Mai-Kai reopens by clicking here.
* The Mai-Kai gift certificates: Treat the special someone on your list

More coverage below
Photos: Gallons to Go quench South Florida’s thirst for The Mai-Kai
Review: Exclusive new Mai-Kai rum introduced
Social media: Rum Barrel Challenge on Instagram

The Mai-Kai online store
The Mai-Kai Trading Post is the historic restaurant’s online version of its vast on-site gift shop, offering custom mugs, apparel, jewelry, Tikis, artist prints, menus, and more.

The Mai-Kai on social media
Twitter | Facebook: Official page | Friends of The Mai-Kai group
Instagram: Restaurant | The Molokai bar | Trading Post

The Mia-Kai Online Tiki Bingo Benefit
Aid for Mai-Kai employees
On May 7, an online Tiki bingo benefit raised $4,400 for employees of The Mai-Kai affected by the closing due to coronavirus. Players brought $10 bingo cards and played for donated prizes, including a Mai-Kai Club membership and other items from The Mai Kai. The check was presented by the event organizers to The Mai-Kai’s Pia Dahlquist (left) and Kern Mattei (right). (Photos from Facebook)

Support Tiki bars now by visiting their online stores, contributing to fundraisers
UPDATES: Support Tiki bars by visiting their online stores, contributing to fundraisers

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Gallons To Go from The Mai-Kai

PHOTOS & RECAP: Gallons to Go quench South Florida’s thirst for The Mai-Kai

The Mai-Kai’s Gallons to Go take-out cocktail program launched on just one day – Friday, April 3 – and was an immediate success. Orders were received for more than 100 gallons during that initial three-hour pick-up window. Two weeks later, pick-ups were expanded to two days (April 17-18) and orders topped 200 gallons.

Manager Kern Mattei shows off the day's work: A full supply of Mai-Kai Rum Barrels to go. (April 15)
Manager Kern Mattei shows off the day’s work on April 15: A full supply of Mai-Kai Rum Barrels to go. (Mai-Kai photo)

The core offerings were four of the acclaimed bar’s most popular tropical cocktails: Barrel O’ Rum, Mai Tai, Jet Pilot and Piña Colada. Priced from $80 up to $131.50, the gallons are touted as serving around 15 drinks, a great value any way you slice it. A gallon yields more than 25 servings of the small but powerful Jet Pilot, so even at the top price point you’re getting a hell of a deal.

Word leaked out that the Black Magic was also available by special order, pleasing fans of that cult classic. In later weeks, guests could also order more mainstream offerings such as the Coconut Barrel, Vodka Barrel, and a virgin Pina Colada. The current menu is the same with the exception of the Piña Colada, which is temporarily not available.
Gallons to Go official menu: Click here to see that latest offerings

To meet the onslaught of orders, the bar staff had to kick into high gear in just a few days of production. By “staff” we really mean one hard-working bartender, the tireless Miles “Max” Vrahimis, who some readers may remember for his work with Lemon Hart Rum. He’s still a Lemon Hart rep, but Vrahimis has taken on his new role at The Mai-Kai with abandon, as you can see by the photos below.

ROUND THREE: Now a veteran at batching cocktails, bartender Max Vrahimis can pour multiple bottles of Lemon Hart 151 without even looking. (April 30)
Bartender Max Vrahimis pours Lemon Hart 151 into a batch of Jet Pilots on April 30. (Mai-Kai photo)

That’s not to say he didn’t have help. Owner Dave Levy and his management team were there running the show, and they also helped prep cocktails and orders. Kudos to director of sales and marketing Pia Dahlquist for personally handling all of the orders by phone and email. Manager Kern Mattei looked out-of-place without his usual dapper suit, but he and director of catering John Gelardi kept busy filling orders and helping Vrahimis in The Mai-Kai’s famous back bar.

The secret hidden lair behind the kitchen is also strategically located near the restaurant’s back door, which made production and distribution of the massive amount of cocktails just a bit smoother. After the first round of gallons, the two-week breather became necessary to secure more containers and gear up for the next round.

The reaction was immediate and overwhelming. The Mai-Kai closed its doors after service on March 25, so the ensuring weeks had built up quite a demand from its South Florida faithful. Social media posts boosted interest (see below), with envious fans from around the country inquiring hopefully if they could get gallons shipped to them.

Continue reading “UPDATE: Cocktail quarts join gallons as The Mai-Kai expands takeout menu”

Surprise winner, new spirit of aloha at fifth annual Art of Tiki cocktail competition at South Beach Wine & Food Festival

Art of Tiki Cocktail Showdown at the 2019 South Beach Wine & Food Festival

Tiki and South Beach: Two great tastes that don’t necessarily go great together. The glitz and glamour of Miami’s most famous tourist strip seems at odds with the laid-back island atmosphere and exotic South Seas vibe that makes Polynesian Pop so endearing.

Bacardi served up four cocktails in its sponsor bar, including a take on the Mai Tai that includes its Anejo Cuatro, a 4-year-old rum
Bacardi served up four cocktails in its sponsor bar, including a take on the Mai Tai that includes its Anejo Cuatro, a 4-year-old rum.

But like diverse ingredients in a complex tropical drink, that awkward juxtaposition may finally be working in harmony if you look closely at the fifth annual “Art of Tiki” cocktail competition during the recent South Beach Wine & Food Festival.

Held Feb. 22 at The Surfcomber hotel and featuring mostly up-and-coming Miami bartenders, the festive feast of booze and food made a large leap forward after a disappointing 2018, according to our correspondent. Everything was turned up a notch, from the entertainment to the decor to the food, resulting in a better overall vibe and more successful event. Some credit should go to the event’s second-year sponsor, Miami’s venerable Bacardi rum.

Gui Jaroschy (right) and Anthony Valencia from Driftway at Generator in Miami Beach are hard at work on their GMT 5000 cocktail
Gui Jaroschy (right) and Anthony Valencia from Driftway at Generator in Miami Beach are hard at work on their GMT 5000 cocktail.

In a surprise result, the competition’s Judge’s Choice award went not to a hotshot bartender but to a quiet and unassuming chef whose complex and creative cocktail paid tribute to Cuba. Meanwhile, popular Miami restaurant Beaker & Gray was the People’s Choice, the bar team’s third win in three years. Ted Allen from sponsor Food Network hosted the party, which as usual sold out the large outdoor pool, patio and beach area behind the hotel.

Below you’ll find our full recap, including photos and reviews of all the cocktails. Also check out our photos from the Rhum Barbancourt booth in the SoBeWFF’s Grand Tasting Village, along with a cocktail recipe from New York City’s Brian Miller. We also included a recap and previously unpublished photos from last year’s Art of Tiki, along with a commentary on the history of the event.

Friday, Feb. 22 – Art of Tiki Cocktail Showdown at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in Miami Beach. A cocktail competition hosted by Food Network’s Ted Allen and featuring Florida bartenders, plus area chefs serving tropical-themed food at The Surfcomber hotel.
SPECIAL FEATURES BELOW
Photos, review: Exclusive images and ratings of all the 2019 cocktails
History: List of hosts, winners and sponsors from 2015-2019
Photos, bonus recipe: Blue Bayou, served by Brian Miller at the 2019 SoBeWFF
2018: Photos, recap from last year’s competition
Commentary: Bartenders, chefs are the true stars of this show

The Art of Tiki Cocktail Showdown was back for a fifth year on Friday, Feb. 22, at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in Miami Beach.

The Art of Tiki returned to The Surfcomber for the fourth year in a row and featured another new marquee name. Ted Allen, best known for hosting the Emmy Award-winning chef competition show Chopped since 2009, was the first non-chef to preside over the Art of Tiki (his bio calls him an author and television personality). His TV role made him well suited to judge the cocktails, which ended up being his central role.

Bacardi executive, ambassador and former bartender Adrian Biggs filled the role of master of ceremonies and made most of the announcements to the crowd. To Barcardi’s credit, it seemed like the spirits giant put more money and effort into the event in its second year as title sponsor. New decor and entertainment by the Mareva Tahiti Polynesian Dancers gave the event a much more authentically Tiki atmosphere. It was as if The Mai-Kai – Fort Lauderdale’s historic Polynesian restaurant – was there in spirit, as one speaker noted.

Sponsor Bacardi put its rums front and center at The Surfcomber hotel.
Sponsor Bacardi put its rums front and center at The Surfcomber hotel.

Several Bacardi-owned rums were made available for the 10 contestants, including sponsors Banks, Santa Teresa and Havana Club (the U.S. version, of course). Among those used by the mixologists were Bacardi Anejo Cuatro, Banks Five Island, Santa Teresa 1796, and Havana Club Anejo Blanco. The contestants also challenged the judges’ taste buds with an array of unique house-made ingredients along with fresh juices, syrups, liqueurs and bitters.

In addition to Allen, the judges included journalists Belkys Nerey (Miami’s WSVN-7) and Laine Doss (Miami New Times), plus bar manager Chris Hudnall (Soho House & Co.). While there’s no Tiki in Allen’s background (that we know of), he sure seems like the kind of guy you’d want to drink with at a Tiki bar. He appeared to enjoy the festivities, but looked “more like a spectator than a host,” according to our correspondent.

The 2019 lineup featured just two 2018 returnees (last year’s champs, Jesus Perez and Ben Potts), along with two-time winner Gui Jaroschy plus many new faces:
* Kevin Andrade from Drunken Dragon (Miami Beach)
* David Cedeno, Seth Carter and Roman Naumov from MiniBar (Miami Beach)
* Emiliano Gonzalez from Casa Florida (Miami)
* TJ Palmieri from Madrina’s (Gainesville)
* Jesus Perez and Courtney Lane from The Broken Shaker (Miami Beach)
* Daniele Dalla Pola from Esotico Miami
* Ben Potts from Beaker & Gray (Miami)
* Andres Rairan from The Social Club at The Surfcomber (Miami Beach)
* Jorgie Ramos from Abi Maria Bar & Refuge (Miami)
* Anthony Valencia and Gui Jaroschy from Driftway at Generator (Miami Beach)

Particpiating chefs included: Byron Alabado of SushiSamba (Miami Beach), Adrianne Calvo of Chef Adrianne’s (Miami), Victoria Chediak of Poké 305 (North Miami Beach, Miami Beach, Coconut Grove, Miami), Brian Mullins of Ms. Cheezious (Miami, Coral Gables), Richard Sandoval of Toro Toro (Miami), and Cesar Zapata of Phuc Yea (Miami).

Continue reading “Surprise winner, new spirit of aloha at fifth annual Art of Tiki cocktail competition at South Beach Wine & Food Festival”

Cocktail flights soar at Mai-Kai Mixer, reveal revolutionary use of rums

Related: ‘Mai-Kai Mixer’ shakes up South Florida with rockin’ retro cocktail party
Lemon Hart returns to the promised land | Mai-Kai’s cocktail family tree
Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide | Exclusive bar and kitchen tour

The first “Atomic Grog Mai-Kai Mixer” on June 9 served up not only a rousing party featuring a cool retro DJ and live vintage surf music, but also an inside look at some of the 55-year-old Polynesian landmark’s acclaimed tropical drinks.

Mai-Kai Mixer participants enjoy their cocktail flights and a prize from B.G. Reynolds' Hand-Crafted Exotic Syrups.
Mai-Kai Mixer participants enjoy their cocktail flights and a prize from B.G. Reynolds' Hand-Crafted Exotic Syrups.

Surf band Skinny Jimmy & The Stingrays and DJ Mike “Jetsetter” Jones rocked the house all night long as partygoers enjoyed the festive vibe in the Fort Lauderdale restaurant’s elaborately themed Molokai bar. Click here for a full recap of the entertainment, plus photos. But for some, the event’s highlight came during happy hour.

Early arrivals were promised “blind tastings” of three vintage cocktails presented by Mai-Kai manager Kern Mattei. There were 32 flights served in the packed bar, with at least 44 tasters participating. Prizes were awarded to those who correctly guessed which exotic drink they were tasting. Priced at just $15 for three 8-ounce drinks, it was a bargain for the lucky participants. In addition, everyone enjoyed the regular early Saturday happy hour featuring half-priced drinks and appetizers from 4:30 to 7 p.m.

Continue reading “Cocktail flights soar at Mai-Kai Mixer, reveal revolutionary use of rums”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: Jet Pilot soars over its ancestors with flying colors

Updated September 2015
See below: Our Jet Pilot review | Ancestor recipes | Tribute recipes
Related: Rums of The Mai-Kai: Hamilton rums from Guyana fill the Lemon Hart gap
* Mai-Kai cocktail guide

Test Pilot

Tiki bar pioneer Don the Beachcomber’s Test Pilot was one of the most copied drinks during the mid-century heyday of Polynesian cocktails. It morphed into the Ace Pilot, Space Pilot and Astronaut, among others. At The Mai-Kai, it became the Jet Pilot.

As discussed in the review of the vintage S.O.S., Donn Beach was a decorated World War II veteran and always had a deep connection to the armed forces. In his honor, a B-26 Marauder was painted with a replica of the Don the Beachcomber driftwood sign on its nose. The plane and crew flew many successful missions in the Pacific.

The Test Pilot is also an interesting study in how Donn Beach constantly tweaked his drinks. A Don the Beachcomber cocktail from the 1930s or ’40s could be vastly different than one with the same name in the 1950s or ’60s.

Jet Pilot. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, January, 2012)
Jet Pilot. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, January, 2012)

Included below is a Test Pilot recipe unearthed by cocktail sleuth and author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry from the 1940s. It’s one of the most popular in the Tiki revival and includes many of the same ingredients as The Mai-Kai’s Jet Pilot. But I’ve also listed a later recipe from a book by Donn Beach’s widow, Phoebe. It’s slightly different but also very strong and has a similar flavor profile. Other popular versions include the Jet Pilot served at The Luau chain in the 1950s and the Space Pilot, still served today at the Tiki Ti in Los Angeles (est. 1961).

Like Tiki Ti owner Ray Buhen, The Mai-Kai’s original mixologist, Mariano Licudine, worked for Donn Beach in the early days. In 1956, he was lured from the Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Chicago to design The Mai-Kai’s original tropical drink menu. So it’s likely he had a vast knowledge of multiple versions of the Test Pilot when he created arguably one of the best, The Mai-Kai’s high-octane Jet Pilot.

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The official menu description
Jet Pilot
JET PILOT

Fast and courageous, a vigorous blend of heavy bodied rums and zesty juices.

Okole Maluna Society review and rating

Size: Medium

Jet Pilot (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, September, 2015)
Jet Pilot (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, September, 2015)

Potency: Strong

Flavor profile: Dark and powerful rums, spicy and bitter notes with a hint of exotic sweetness.

Review: Very complex and intense. Not for the timid. Sweet, spicy and strong all at the same time.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (see how it ranks)

Ancestry: The Jet Pilot dates back to The Mai-Kai’s original 1956 menu and is based on Don the Beachcomber’s Test Pilot.

Bilge: Since the release of Beachbum Berry’s Grog Log in 1998, the Test Pilot has caught the fancy of rum and cocktail bloggers such as Blair Reynolds and Paul Clarke. Reynolds also features his version of the Jet Pilot on the menu at his acclaimed Portland Tiki bar, Hale Pele. The recipe is featured in the Summer 2014 edition of Tiki Magazine & More, which also includes another recently unearthed version of the Jet Pilot from a 1960s bar guide that was revealed on Tiki Central.

Agree or disagree? Share your reviews and comments below!

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ANCESTOR RECIPES

Two versions of the Test Pilot by The Atomic Grog (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, January 2012)
Two versions of the Test Pilot by The Atomic Grog (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, January 2012)

Test Pilot
(By Don the Beachcomber, circa 1941, from Beachbum Berry’s Grog Log and Remixed)

* 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1/2 ounce falernum (Fee Brothers)
* 3 teaspoons Cointreau
* Dash Angostura bitters
* 6 drops (1/8 teaspoon) Pernod
* 3/4 ounce light Puerto Rican rum
* 1 1/2 ounces dark Jamaican rum

Blend with 1 cup (8 ounces) crushed ice for 5 seconds, then pour into a double old-fashioned glass. Add more crushed ice to fill. Garnish with a speared maraschino cherry.

Cointreau and Pernod dominate this complex, strong and sour concoction that has a very old-school feel.

Test Pilot
(By Don the Beachcomber, from Hawai’i – Tropical Rum Drinks & Cuisine)

* 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
* 3/4 ounce grape juice
* 3/4 ounce honey mix (equal parts honey, water)
* 3/4 ounce gold Puerto Rican rum
* 3/4 ounce dark Jamaican rum
* 1 ounce Lemon Hart 151 Demerara rum
* 2 dashes grenadine
* 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Blend with 6 ounces cracked ice. Serve in a double old-fashioned glass.

Super strong and bitter, with the rums and grape juice forming an odd but surprisingly drinkable mix.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* These are quite different drinks if you look at the ingredients, but much like the story of the Q.B. Cooler and Mai Tai, somehow they yield a similar taste.

* This is a very rum-forward drink so be sure to use high quality spirits. If you can’t find the elusive Lemon Hart 151, use Hamilton 151 rum from Guyana as The Mai-Kai does now. Another option is Goslings Black Seal 151, which The Mai-Kai used when 151 Demerara rum was in short supply (see below).

According to Donn Beach’s biographers, he created his cocktails for specific moods, climates, and times of day. The Test Pilot was reportedly intended for afternoon sipping. By today’s standards, it’s pretty potent to while away the afternoon with. But after a few of these, it will probably make for an interesting evening.

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Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Jet Pilot
By The Atomic Grog (version 4.5, updated September 2015)

Tribute to the Jet Pilot (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2015)
Tribute to the Jet Pilot (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2015)

* 1 ounce fresh lime juice
* 3/4 ounce rich honey mix (2:1 honey, water)
* 1/8 ounce falernum (Fee Brothers)
* 1/8 ounce fassionola (see tips below)
* 3/4 ounce white Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum
* 3/4 ounce gold Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum
* 3/4 ounce dark Jamaican rum
   (Kohala Bay or equivalent; see tips below)
* 3/4 ounce dark 151 rum (see below)
* 1 dash Angostura bitters
* 3 drops Pernod

Pulse blend with 1 cup of crushed ice for no more than 5 seconds. Pour into a double old-fashioned glass, adding more ice if necessary.

September 2015 update: Honey mix reduced from 1 ounce to 3/4 ounce; falernum and fassionola reduced from 1/4 ounce to 1/8 ounce (1 teaspoon); Pernod increased from 2 drops to 3. Seemingly trying to emulate Donn Beach, I can’t stop tinkering with this classic cocktail. But there are good reasons. The Mai-Kai also has been known to modify their recipe, and the latest change was noted by an alert reader (see comments below). Version 4 was indeed very sweet, and this update tampers the sweetness to yield a drier and very traditional Jet Pilot.

Prior to this update, The Mai-Kai made a major enhancement to this and other cocktails by introducing Hamilton 151 rum from Guyana in early 2015 (see full story), replacing Goslings Black Seal 151. Our initial review noted that the smoky Hamilton rum added complexity and depth to the Jet Pilot, cutting the sweetness significantly. But the recipe remained the same for months until we noted the reduction in honey, falernum and fassionola that resulted in a less intense yet more balanced drink.

With the return of 151 Demerara rum in April 2012, the Jet Pilot became supersonically strong. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
With the return of 151 Demerara rum in April 2012, the Jet Pilot became supersonically strong. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The back story

As you can tell, this recipe has gone through many changes and has evolved quite a bit over time. It all started on an old Tiki Central thread that included a very accurate recipe by Anestiki. He introduced many of the key elements of The Mai-Kai’s version, borrowing liberally from the Jet Pilot recipe in Sippin’ Safari that Beachbum Berry traces back to The Luau restaurant in Beverly Hills, circa 1958. It includes many of the same ingredients used in both Donn Beach’s versions and The Mai-Kai’s Jet Pilot. Interestingly, The Luau also had an outpost in Miami Beach, not too far from The Mai-Kai. Drink names, flavors and ingredients spread like wildfire when tropical cocktails reached their peak in popularity. This explains why Donn Beach and The Mai-Kai went to great lengths to keep their recipes secret.

I used this as a jumping off point for my first tribute recipe. I was quite happy with it, but it turns out I was off base on several fronts. With just two rums, it lacked the intensity of the real deal. In late April 2012, Lemon Hart 151 Demerara rum returned to The Mai-Kai after a 15-year absence and we quickly learned that it was included in the Jet Pilot. This immediately gave the drink a huge boost and version 2 of the tribute appeared on The Atomic Grog in May of that year.

Jet Pilot (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2012)
Jet Pilot (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2012)

But the research continued, fueled by the interest of enthusiasts on Tiki Central and followers of this blog. One of the comments below points out the drink’s red hue and theorizes about the inclusion of the intense fassionola syrup. I also started questioning the use of cinnamon syrup after a similar revision of the 151 Swizzle recipe. Then, the Jet Pilot’s appearance as one of the drinks in the flights served at The Atomic Grog’s Mai-Kai Mixer in June 2012 gave us a chance for further examination and revealed even more secrets.

Mai-Kai manager Kern Mattei told us that the Jet Pilot actually contains four rums, and he clued us in to what they were. Also, he said, the only fresh juice contained in the drink is lime. This forced us to totally re-examine our recipe and resulted in the version 3 updates below. Without orange juice, which was in the earlier version, the drink got its hint of fruit flavor and color from the mysterious fassionola. I dropped the cinnamon syrup and, lo and behold, the combination of rums (particularly Kohala Bay) and falernum conspire to give the illusion of cinnamon.

A Jet Pilot tribute featuring a 50/50 mix of Fee Brothers grenadine and Smucker's Red Raspberry Syrup (left) is compared to a version containing fassionola
A Jet Pilot tribute featuring a 50/50 mix of Fee Brothers grenadine and Smucker's Red Raspberry Syrup (left) is compared to a version containing fassionola. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, June 2012)

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* Fassionola, discussed in depth in the Cobra’s Kiss review, is a very obscure bar syrup. It’s a rich, intense and concentrated mix that adds color along with sweet berry notes. Fassionola Red Syrup (Tropical Gold Fruit) from Jonathan English appears to be the best product on the market, and it’s often available on eBay. However, home bartenders may want to try an easy solution suggested below by Atomic Grog follower Brian Stamp. A mix of equal parts of a dark and rich grenadine (try Fee Brothers, or make your own) and Smucker’s Red Raspberry Syrup works splendidly (thanks Brian!). The taste and color differences between the two drinks (see photo) are barely noticeable. A more natural option to Smucker’s came to light in late 2014, when I discovered organic raspberry simple syrup from Royal Rose. There’s also a small movement among craft bartenders to make their own fassionola (see story).

The Jet Pilot is served at The Mai-Kai's 2014 Hulaween party
The Jet Pilot is served at The Mai-Kai’s 2014 Hulaween party on Oct. 31. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* Hamilton 151 and Lemon Hart 151, both distilled by Demerara Distillers in Guyana, are equally excellent in this drink. Complementing the rich and smoky Demerara rum perfetly is the bold Kohala Bay, a London-style dark Jamaican rum that was formerly known as Dagger. This key combination of dark 151 and dark Jamaican rums is used in several other of the top-rated strong drinks, such as the Zombie and 151 Swizzle. Kohala Bay is difficult to find in stores outside of Florida, so you may need to substite equal parts of Smith & Cross Jamaican rum and El Dorado 12-year-old Demerara rum. If you can’t find Hamilton or Lemon Hart, Goslings 151 will work, as noted above.

It’s not easy to one-up the master, but Mariano Licudine and The Mai-Kai did so with the soaring Jet Pilot. On a menu full of potent potations, it’s perhaps the strongest of the strong. You have been warned.

Okole maluna!

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PREVIOUS VERSIONS

Much like the 151 Swizzle, the above recipe evolved over time. Similarly, several of the earlier versions are fine drinks in their own right so I’ve included them all below.

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Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Jet Pilot, v.4
By The Atomic Grog (December 2014)

* 1 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1 ounce rich honey mix
* 1/4 ounce falernum
* 1/4 ounce fassionola
* 3/4 ounce white Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum
* 3/4 ounce gold Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum
* 3/4 ounce dark Jamaican rum
* 3/4 ounce dark 151 rum
* 1 dash Angostura bitters
* 2 drops Pernod

Pulse blend for with 1 cup of crushed ice for no more than 5 seconds. Pour into a double old-fashioned glass, adding more ice if necessary.

Note: When Lemon Hart 151 rum suddenly became unavailable (see story), The Mai-Kai was forced to switch to Goslings 151. While not a Demerara rum from Guyana like Lemon Hart, the blended black rum based in Bermuda does hit some of the same smoky flavor notes. And the 151 version packs the same overproof punch. While revisiting the recipe, I also noticed that The Mai-Kai’s version had a sweetness and drinkability that was missing from the tribute. But by simply cutting in half the amount of bitters and Pernod, I got a sweeter and richer Jet Pilot, very close to the version served at the time. If you perfer a little more spice, check out version 3.5 below.

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Jet Pilot tribute by The Atomic Grog, June 2012
Jet Pilot tribute by The Atomic Grog, June 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Jet Pilot, v.3.5
By The Atomic Grog (July 2012)

* 1 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1 ounce rich honey mix
* 1/4 ounce falernum
* 1/4 ounce fassionola
* 3/4 ounce white Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum
* 3/4 ounce gold Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum
* 3/4 ounce dark Jamaican rum
* 3/4 ounce dark 151 rum
* 2 dashes Angostura bitters
* 4 drops Pernod

Pulse blend for with 1 cup of crushed ice for no more than 5 seconds. Pour into a double old-fashioned glass, adding more ice if necessary.

Note: This update brought more sweetness from the honey and fassionola to the forefront. If you prefer something a bit more potent, check out version 3 below.

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Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Jet Pilot, v.3
By The Atomic Grog, (June 2012)

* 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
* 3/4 ounce rich honey mix
* 1/2 ounce falernum
* 1/2 teaspoon fassionola
* 3/4 ounce white Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum
* 1 ounce gold Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum
* 3/4 ounce dark Jamaican rum
* 1 ounce dark 151 rum
* 2 dashes Angostura bitters
* 6 drops Pernod

Pulse blend for with 1 cup of crushed ice for no more than 5 seconds. Pour into a double old-fashioned glass, adding more ice if necessary.

Note: A major update with the addition of a fourth rum, falernum and fassionola plus the removal of OJ and cinnamon.

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Jet Pilot tribute by The Atomic Grog, January 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Jet Pilot tribute by The Atomic Grog, January 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Jet Pilot, v.2
By The Atomic Grog (May 2012)

* 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1/2 ounce orange juice
* 1/2 ounce falernum
* 1/2 ounce rich honey mix
* 1 teaspoon cinnamon syrup
* 1 ounce gold Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum
* 1 ounce dark Jamaican rum
* 1 ounce Lemon Hart 151 Demerara rum
* 2 dashes Angostura bitters
* 6 drops Pernod

Pulse blend for with 1 cup of crushed ice for no more than 5 seconds. Pour into a double old-fashioned glass, adding more ice if necessary. Garnish with a speared pineapple finger.

Note: The addition of 151 Demerara rum really makes this cocktail take flight. Some still consider this dynamic version their favorite.

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Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Jet Pilot, v.1
By The Atomic Grog (February 2012)

* 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1/2 ounce orange juice
* 1/2 ounce falernum
* 1/2 ounce rich honey mix
* 1 teaspoon cinnamon syrup
* 1 1/2 ounces gold Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum
* 1 1/2 ounce dark Jamaican rum
* 2 dashes Angostura bitters
* 6 drops Pernod

Pulse blend for with 1 cup of crushed ice for no more than 5 seconds. Pour into a double old-fashioned glass, adding more ice if necessary. Garnish with a speared pineapple finger.

Note: This is a viable alternative if you don’t have dark 151 rum. This was the standard before the return of Lemon Hart. It’s also a good option if you want to turn the intensity down a notch. Which is not really in the spirit of the Jet Pilot, but you’ll thank yourself in the morning.